Belgian Coast: the beauty behind the concrete.
The Belgian Coast is well-known for its awful concrete building wall on the seaside. You can barely find any of the beautiful Art Nouveau and Belle Epoque houses that were once everywhere on the seafront.
But behind these walls of concrete, one can find some beautiful houses well hidden from those who do not dare leaving the beachside.
Tips: The coast tram is a great way to visit the Belgian coast. It goes from one side of Belgium to the other one for a very small fee.
De Panne is a great place for families. It is less poshy than the other major seaside cities.
It is a real paradise for nature lovers as it houses several natural reserves, many hectares of unspoiled dunes and a lot of walking trails.
When walking on the dunes, stay on the paths. They are very fragile and protected.
The Dumont neighbourhood, famous for its architecture, is definitely worth a stroll. It is characterized by its cottage style architecture. It takes one back to the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century.
The waterfront walk may not be that interesting in terms of architecture but do not miss the lovely and colourful beach huts.
From La Panne is it easy to access the lovely Furnes/Veurne (link at the end of this post).
Coxyde & Oostduinkerke
Every summer, roughly from early June to late September, it is possible to see some horseback fishing. Fishermen use Belgian draft horses to fish shrimps.
The fishing takes place an hour and a half before and after the low tide times.
Almost extinct, this tradition is now listed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Only 15 fishermen still practice horseback fishing, mostly as a way to maintain the tradition.
Hours of fishing being weather, tides and shrimps dependent, check the schedules ahead. Sometimes you can even have a taste afterwards.
The fishing usually takes place on Oostduinkerke beach but when there are not enough shrimps to fish, foot fishing is sometimes done in Coxyde.
The Quartier Sénégalais or the village Sénégalais is a residential area in the Belgian seaside resort Koksijde which was built in 1908, during the Belle Époque era.
Its name is related to the housing of French soldiers from the colonies during WW1 and to the names of the residents, mostly ex-colonials who gave Africa-remembering names to their home.
Many of these cottages are by architect Gaston Lejeune and the urbanistic style respects the English garden district idea. In order to obtain a varied street scene, couples villas with detached houses were interspersed. This can also be found in De Panne (Dumont district), De Haan (the Concession), Knokke and Westende.
In the outskirts of Coxyde lies the ruins of the Abbey of the Dunes (Ten Duinen) with a small museum and a old mill. Still working, the South Abbey Mill is one of only eight mills of this type still in existence in the world.
Note that the old city centre of Nieuwpoort is located about three kilometers from the coast.
The contemporary form of the town hall, in Flemish Neorenaissance, dates from 1922 and hosts an important collection of works of art.
The former town hall, in the Langestraat, functions now as police station.
Right next to the town hall, there is the former grain hall, better known as municipal hall probably already used in 1280.
Through the years, the hall had been destroyed many times. After the First World War, it was reconstructed (1920) in its original style and with the original material.
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwstraat (Our Lady Church), like other buildings, was completely destroyed during WWI, but rebuilt in the 1920s. It was again damaged during WWII and rebuilt along the original plans of 15th century Gothic in 1948. The separate high tower with a carillon of 67 bells with an exceptional quality of tone that can be heard during summer concerts was added in 1952.
In between the concrete buildings facing the beach, there is a beautiful example of Norman architecture dating back to 1923.
The walk along the marina is a nice one. With a bit of luck, you will see some seals.
St Laureins Dunes
Great place for birdwatching. You can also visit bunkers for free.
If you like Belgian comics and sculpture, Middelkerke is for you.
Along the seafront, on the dike, there is the Stripstandbeelden, some kind of walk of fame for cartoons characters.
A recurring problem in some cities, no sun on the beach because of the buildings.
You could easily spend a day in Ostende. The city is known for its long beach and promenade including the beautiful Royal Galleries of Ostend. Unfortunately there are very little Art Nouveau buildings left on the seafront.
The train station is a massive building built in granite, bluestone and limestone. The architectural style is classical, inspired by the French architect from the 18th Century François Mansart and the Louis XVI of France style.
Near the train station, the harbour houses 2 ships that can be visited: the Mercator, former training sailing ship for Belgian merchant navy officers, and the Museumship Amandine, an Icelandic fishing ship.
The Ensor Museum is a must see. Belgian painter and printmaker, Ensor had an important influence on expressionism and surrealism. He lived in Ostend for almost his entire life.
The museum does not show his art but how he lived. His family had a chain of souvenir shops. The shop was on the ground floor and the family lived on the first floor, while Ensor had his own studio in the attic.
There is some interesting architecture left in the city. The best is to ask for a map at the Information Centre.
From the Peperbusse, the tower of a burned down church to ancient fisherman's houses, Art Nouveau buildings, the Neo Gothic St Petrus and St Paulus Church, the casino, the Hippodrome Wellington and of course the Royal Galleries, seaside neoclassical arcade on the dike, there is many things to see for architecture lovers.
There is also a Japanese garden, the Shin Kai Tei Garden.
Street art can be find all over the city. Every year since 2016, “The Crystal Ship - art festival in the city” is organised. It is the biggest festival of its kind in Europe and world-famous artists are present.
There are only 2 towns on the Belgian coast without any modern buildings directly facing the beach: Bredene and De Haan/Le Coq.
Bredene has no dike.
Bredene is where all the campings are. There is not much to see but the beach is beautiful and there are walking paths in the dunes. There is also a small kiosk with beautiful views at sunset. The nude beach is also there, next to a lovely Art Nouveau tram station.
Compared to apartment renting, cabins in camping are cheaper. Beware they are very hot when the sun is out. This said they are very comfy and offer everything you need.
Campings are closed during winter, usually from mid-October till mid-March.
Prices are not cheaper during winter time.
The longest beach, plenty of room and a few Belle Epoque buildings.
De Haan is full of wonders. It is a pure delight to wander in its streets.
It has the second longest beach at the Belgian Coast, woodlands, polders and dunes.
The city also houses an elegant historic residential area named the 'Concession' with beautiful Villas.
The best way to see the place is to get the walking map "'In the wake of Einstein'. In fact, Einstein lived in De Haan for a couple of months in 1933. You can sit next to his statue, and see the house where he stayed in.
The Casino is a prime example of Art Deco architecture. Do not miss the wall depicting the Battle of Sluis by artist Albert Saverys inside.
The three giant babies crawling over the facade were made by Czech artist David Cerny.
If you are into Art Nouveau, Blankenberge is for you. It houses numerous beautiful Art Nouveau tiled wall friezes and tile tableaus as well as a museum dedicated to the Belle Epoque.
The Belgium Pier is unique in Belgium. It is an Art Deco building from 1933.
There are some nice Flemish Renaissance buildings in the city, one of which being the information centre.
The small old town hall, built in 1680, is the oldest public building in Blankenberge. It is now an exhibition centre.
The Belle Epoque Centrum aims to show Blankenberge as it was during La Belle Epoque. Between 1870 and 1914, the city was a significant spa town.
Do not miss the splendid terrace on the rooftop.
The best way to see the Art Nouveau heritage is to buy a heritage walking route guide or the art nouveau walk map from the Tourist Information Centre.
Do have a look into loggias to see the beautiful tiles artworks.
In the old fishermen district, the Majutte house is now a museum-café.
Separating the old town from the harbour, there is a stylish structure dating from the Belle Epoque period called Paravang (from French "paravent", i.e. "wind screen"). The roof covering is in neo-Gothic style with an Oriental touch and shell motifs. The tiles are glazed.
The Paravang is the only remain of its kind. It was beautifully restored in 2002.
The Sealife Centre is a great place to go learn about the North Sea. It is also a shelter for orphan or hurt seals. There is no show done with the animals, only the vet. examination and the feeding.
Not much to see here as it is mainly a port. It is indeed Brugge Port but has nothing more in common.
From there you can reach the lovely village of Lisseweige by train. To reach Brugge, you have to go to the Ostende station. There is no more direct train from Zeebrugge to Brugge.
Knokke-Heist is not the nicest part of Knokke but it has a few nice building and the famous Folon sculpture that was disappearing into the sand. The statue was put a bit further from the sea and is now safe. There is also a lot of public art to be seen on the dike.
The poshiest part of the Belgian coast, along with De Haan. Beautiful big villas and nice walking paths.
Once in very bad shape, with an awful little bird zoo, and threatened by urbanism, Het Zwin had been totally reshaped in a really great way.
It is now a paradise for bird watchers and botanic lovers.
Contemporary art sculpture held every summer with the participation of the whole coastline.
For the foodies
Mussels are really expensive and a bit of a tourist trap so check carefully the places where it is worth to go.
Otherwise, a must try are the shrimps. You can sometimes taste grey shrimps right after the fishing during summer. Otherwise, shrimp croquettes are on almost every menu along the coast. And it is really tasty. Again, avoid touristy spots.
You will not lack sugar if needed either.
Words of advice
Try to avoid private beaches. It does not look like it but these private beaches are actually a plague. Because of them, the beach has been less and less accessible to people who want to enjoy it freely in the heart of the cities. The area of sand left is often the one the sea covers at high tide. Not to mention the noise pollution coming with it.
Also, do not feed birds, they are a real pest and steal food directly from people.